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Just two weeks ago Tom and I crossed the border back into Baja California, Mexico. The Baja peninsula is located just south of California, and boasts two extraordinary coastlines- one along the pristine Sea of Cortez, and one along the surfer-friendly Pacific Ocean. We spent several months in Baja last winter, and are thrilled to be back on the Baja Peninsula. The beauty of a Baja road trip cannot be overstated, and already we are feeling the peace and relaxation that Baja is famous for.
What makes the Baja peninsula so special?
This is such a HUGE question, because there are so many factors that make Baja, Mexico unique. One of the most profound differences between Baja and mainland Mexico is the population. The Baja peninsula is primarily composed of huge swaths of pristine wilderness, and the population per square mile is quite low. There are certainly populated city centers, but only a few, and there are miles and miles of empty desert and shoreline to explore.
Baja is also famous for its laid-back, casual atmosphere. It is almost impossible to travel here without falling into “Baja time”, which is basically a no-rush, relaxed, slow pace of life. Tom and I find that within days of crossing the border we feel the stressors of our faster-paced US lives melt away, and we quickly relax into Baja time.
Why is a Baja road trip the best way to explore Baja, Mexico?
Due to the sparse population in Baja, there are enormous areas of wilderness that are not serviced by any public transportation. If you are interested in exploring the shoreline of the Baja peninsula you will need your own vehicle to see most of it.
Having your own vehicle will also give you the freedom to explore at your own pace, and will allow you to stop at the many fantastic roadside taco stands and segundos (second hand shops). The Baja peninsula is famous for incredible mariscos (seafood), and most of the roadside stands serve shrimp cocktails and fish tacos along with traditional meat tacos. There are also loads of segundos along the highway in Baja, and you can often get fishing gear, snorkeling gear, and other useful items for next to nothing in these shops!
Basically, a Baja road trip is the best way to experience ALL of the Baja peninsula. In the fall, winter, and spring months there are many travelers from all over the world road tripping through Baja, and you will surely meet other interesting travelers along the way!
Should you plan to camp on your Baja road trip?
YES! If you want to fully experience the Baja peninsula you will want to visit in a vehicle, and with a camping setup of some kind. Baja hosts many of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches, and you can often camp on these beaches for free or for very little money. For example, on Bahía Concepción there are miles and miles of beautiful beaches that cost anywhere from nothing to 120 pesos/night ($6 USD/night at the current exchange rate) to camp on. The nearest town is still about 20 miles from these beaches, so a local hotel cannot provide the experience of waking up 10 feet from the high tide line.
Keep in mind that camping setups come in many shapes and sizes! A basic tent setup will be perfectly sufficient for your Baja road trip as many beaches feature small huts called palapas which provide shade during the hottest part of the day.
We’ve also seen people camp in their trucks, vans, and SUVs. We travel Baja in a Toyota Dolphin micro-motorhome (read about why we chose our Toyota Dolphin), and have met travelers in camper vans, truck campers, and even giant RV’s (although the Mexican streets are often very narrow with sharp corners, so a large RV is not ideal for exploration).
I recently met a fellow traveler who purchased a cheap minivan in California just to travel Baja for a couple months, and who planned to sell the van at the end of his Baja road trip. Purchasing a cheap vehicle for your road trip is an excellent option, as mechanical work in Baja tends to be very cheap, efficient, and easy to find.
Do I need to speak Spanish to travel the Baja peninsula?
No! Many Mexicans in Baja speak some English, and it’s not uncommon to meet Mexicans who speak fluent English. A small Spanish/English travel dictionary will allow you to navigate basic transactions like gasoline and food purchases. If you have a smartphone, Google Translate is a fantastic translation app that has an offline option if you are without reception.
The first time I visited Baja I did not speak any Spanish at all. By the time I left the Baja peninsula I had picked up the basics, and now I am building on that foundation pretty easily. The Mexican people are very kind, and are often happy to help you with your Spanish. Since the locals in Baja are so patient it’s not hard to pick up some basic Spanish as you travel.
Is it safe to travel to Mexico? Is a Baja road trip safe?
This is the number one question people ask us about our travels on the Baja peninsula. The answer is absolutely yes! Baja’s beaches are some of the safest places in Mexico! We actually feel safer in Baja than we do in many areas of the United States where we have traveled. If you’d like to read more about our experience with safety in Baja read “Is it Safe to Travel in Mexico?” For a more specific perspective on RV/camper van travel in Baja read why we choose NOT to take an RV caravan tour to Baja.
How much will a Baja road trip cost?
This is probably the second most common question we are asked about our Baja travels. The answer is: probably less than you expect! Baja is an extremely affordable beach destination, with the one exception being the Cabo San Lucas area at the southern tip of the Baja peninsula. Cabo is overrun with huge resorts and tourist operations, making it far more expensive than the rest of Baja. Cabo is also the only area of the Baja peninsula where crime is a serious issue. We avoid Cabo on our Baja road trips, and recommend other road trippers do the same. (If you would like to visit Cabo consider flying in and staying in a large resort).
Back to affordability! We spend FAR less money traveling in Baja than we do traveling or living in the United States. You can also read a more detailed explanation of our Baja road trip budget. Need more convincing? Check out these 5 reasons to spend the winter in Mexico.
Ready to plan your own Baja road trip?! Check out some of our favorite resources for traveling in Mexico and the Baja peninsula: